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The Monkey Trap, and Hillary Clinton's Blind Rush to Defeat

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Message Ernest Partridge
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Some African tribes have devised an ingenious method of capturing monkeys. They cut a small hole in a coconut, large enough for a monkey's hand but too small for a monkey's fist. They then put a few peanuts inside the coconut. When the monkey reaches inside and grabs the peanuts, it is unable to extract its hand.

The monkey is then faced with two choices: let go of the bait and go free or hold on to the bait and be captured. Escaping with the bait is not an option. African monkeys, determined and single-minded critters that they are, usually hold-on until captured.

Hillary Clinton, it seems, is consumed with a monkey-like determination to become the 44th President of the United States, and with that consuming objective in mind, she fails to perceive the context and the likely consequences of her behavior. She has essentially two options: hang on to her determination to win the nomination by any and all means necessary, which, as I will explain below, will almost certainly result in the election of John McCain, or let go of her personal ambition and join a united effort to elect a Democratic President in November. Winning both the nomination and the general election is apparently out of the question.

Most objective observers of the campaign agree that Barack Obama has a near-mathematical lock on the nomination, provided the contest continues according to the party's rules. In compliance with a signed agreement by both candidates, the unauthorized and uncontested Michigan and Florida primaries are out of play. Any likely compromise resolution of the Michigan and Florida controversies will be of negligible advantage to either side. Obama's 150 pledged delegate lead can only be overcome by unobtainable two to one Clinton majorities in all the remaining primaries followed by the support of a majority of the super delegates.

Clinton can play fair, or she can play dirty. If she plays fair by following the rules and refraining from smear tactics, she will surely lose the nomination. Given Barack Obama's unassailable lead among the pledged delegates, it is clear that the super-delegates will not overturn the people's will as expressed in the primaries and the caucuses. Nancy Pelosi, who leads more than two-hundred super-delegates, has recently announced as much.

So if Clinton is to be nominated, she must overturn rules that she has agreed to, persuade most of the super-delegates to ignore the will of the voters and caucus participants, and to accomplish all this she must diminish Obama's stature through negative campaigning. Because such tactics also devastate the public opinion of her (not very high to begin with), those same tactics employed to gain the nomination will almost certainly deprive her of the presidency in the general election.

In sum, this is Hillary's dilemma: Hold on to the bait, and both Clinton and the Democrats lose. Let go of the bait, and Obama wins. Hillary Clinton's victory in November is not an option.

Clinton began her campaign with the pollsters projecting that about half of the voting population would not vote for her under any circumstances. So to win the presidency, she must somehow reverse a widespread negative public perception of her. And what is this perception? Among other things, that she is shrill, self-serving, unprincipled, manipulative, and untrustworthy. And yet to win the nomination, how must she behave, and thus appear to the public, if she is to overcome Obama's commanding advantage? She must be, as she now appears to be, shrill, self-serving, unprincipled, manipulative and untrustworthy. In short, in order to win the nomination, she must behave in a manner that will validate a public opinion of her that will surely deprive her of victory in the general election.

And even if her negative campaign against Obama, both overt and covert, fails to capture the nomination, it might well sufficiently damage Obama's stature to deprive him, along with numerous Democratic Congressional candidates, of success in November. Hence Obama's guilt by association with Pastor Jeremiah White, and her favoring of McCain's "experience" over Obama's "speech-making." Justly or not, there is a suspicion spreading among rank-and-file Democrats that Hillary's attitude is "it must be me, or nobody!" Meanwhile, as this bitter rivalry continues we can see a fracturing of the party: Support Clinton? "You're a racist." Support Obama? "You're a sexist." It's nonsense, of course. Most of Clinton's supporters are not racists, and most Obamaphiles have no objection to a woman president; just not that woman. It's all nonsense, but mischievously divisive nonetheless.

Then there is the issue of "playing by the rules." Early in the campaign, Clinton, along with the other candidates, signed a statement agreeing not to recognize the delegates of, or to campaign in, the rule-defying states of Michigan and Florida. Now that she desperately needs these votes, she is ignoring her agreement and is demanding as her own the delegates in Michigan, where she was the only candidate on the ballot, and in Florida where Obama, by agreement, did not appear. Having lost in the Texas delegate count, she is attempting to overturn this result in the courts, perchance to be eventually bailed out by the Supreme Court, as was George Bush.

Not content to defy these party rules, she now proposes her own rules. For example, because the "caucus delegates," have been chosen by an allegedly "less democratic process," they should not be regarded as equal to "primary delegates." It just happens that Obama has been more successful in caucuses than in primaries. And now we are told by the Clinton campaign that the Pennsylvania primary should be treated as decisive. Fortunately, not many Democrats seem to be buying that one.

After seven years of Bush/Cheney violations of treaties and international law, of trashing the Constitution, of defying Congressional subpoenas, and of nullifying acts of Congress with signing statements, it is not likely that the American public will have much stomach for another President that regards herself as unbound by rules or, by implication, by laws.

The Democratic Party is caught in the grips of a tragedy, in the classical sense, described by Alfred North Whitehead as "the solemnity of the remorseless working of things" which rational agents can see at work but are helpless to intervene and avert. Historical examples include the drift of the European powers into the First World War, the uncontrolled growth of world population, and the onset of catastrophic climate change. Now a prospective candidate of one of the major parties, consumed by personal ambition, is set upon a course that might well cripple the party and destroy its otherwise excellent prospects of success in the presidential election.

Or possibly not. But in order to put the brakes on this potential train-wreck, the Democratic party elders, which is to say the super-delegates, must take the initiative and intervene. And sadly, the Congressional members among the Democratic super-delegates have not distinguished themselves through their initiatives and interventions against the Bush/Cheney crime syndicate.

What the supers might do, however much I despair of hope that they will, is announce to both candidates: "Either this orgy of party self-immolation and this violation of party rules ends now, or else we will end it forthwith." They can do so if a sufficient number of the super-delegates endorse the innocent candidate to put that candidate's total "over the top."

Failing that, or perchance in addition, the rank and file Democratic voters must voice their displeasure, loud and clear, at the behavior of Hillary Clinton and her campaign.

Only then might Hillary Clinton loose her grip on the prize that she has already lost and cannot regain: The Presidency of the United States.

Copyright 2008 by Ernest Partridge
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Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. Partridge has taught philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The (more...)

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